Sunday, June 29, 2008

I taught creative writing for three years at the University of Toledo and although I'm a year removed from that gig--now teaching at Trine University--I still get emails and phone calls and mail from students I was privileged to teach while there. I just got another email from one of my best students yesterday and thought folks might be interested in her story. She's a wonderful writer and it just so happens she's a young black woman. Normally, a writer's race wouldn't be notable, but in this case it is, I think.

When she came to my class the first time, she told me that another professor in the department whose classes she'd taken before mine, had told her she needed to quit writing the fantasy novel she'd been working on for years and instead, write about her "black experience." I was dumbfounded, especially since the young student told me she could care less about her so-called "black experience," feeling that all she'd ever had was an "American citizen experience," and what she really enjoyed reading and writing about was fantasy. But, she now had doubts. I told her that I thought this teacher's advice was the silliest I'd ever heard. What does it matter if she was black or white... or green or purple? Write what you want to write, I told her. If Samuel Delany had had a teacher like this woman had and told him he should only write about his "black experience," we'd never have gotten to enjoy his wonderful sci-fi books.

Well, my bright young student is finishing her novel (fantasy) and it's brilliant. She's graciously allowed me to "coach" her on it. It won't be long before she'll be in the process of securing an agent and sending her "baby" out into the world. Not a word in it about any "black experience."

Wonder what this teacher is going to say when her former student's book gets published...

The first rule in teaching should be: Do no harm.

Too bad some folks don't follow this precept.

Blue skies,